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Eustache Deschamps

Born: c. 1346
Birthplace: Vertus, France
Died: c. 1406
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Poet

Nationality: France
Executive summary: L'Art de Dictier

Eustache Deschamps, called Morel, a French poet, was born at Vertus in Champagne about 1346. He studied at Reims, where he is said to have received some lessons in the art of versification from Guillaume de Machaut, who is stated to have been his uncle. From Reims he proceeded about 1360 to the University of Orleans to study law and the seven liberal arts. He entered the king's service as royal messenger about 1367, and was sent on missions to Bohemia, Hungary and Moravia. In 1372 he was made huissier d'armes to Charles V. He received many other important offices, was bailli of Valois, and afterwards of Senlis, squire to the Dauphin, and governor of Fismes. In 1380 his patron, Charles V, died, and in the same year the English burnt down his house at Vertus. In his childhood he had been an eyewitness of the English invasion of 1358; he had been present at the siege of Reims and seen the march on Chartres; he had witnessed the signing of the treaty of Bretigny; he was now himself a victim of the English fury. His violent hatred of the English found vent in numerous appeals to carry the war into England, and in the famous prophecy that England would be destroyed so thoroughly that no one should be able to point to her ruins. His own misfortunes and the miseries of France embittered his temper. He complained continually of poverty, railed against women and lamented the woes of his country. His last years were spent on his Miroir de mariage, a satire of 13,000 lines against women, which contains some real comedy. The mother-in-law of French farce has her prototype in the Miroir.

The historical and patriotic poems of Deschamps are of much greater value. He does not, like Froissart, cast a glamor over the miserable wars of the time but gives a faithful picture of the anarchy of France, and inveighs ceaselessly against the heavy taxes, the vices of the clergy and especially against those who enrich themselves at the expense of the people. The terrible ballad with the refrain "Sà, de l'argent; sà, de l'argent" is typical of his work. Deschamps excelled in the use of the ballade and the chant royal. In each of these forms he was the greatest master of his time. In ballade form he expressed his regret for the death of Du Guesclin, who seems to have been the only man except his patron, Charles V., for whom he ever felt any admiration. One of his ballades (No. 285) was sent with a copy of his works to Geoffrey Chaucer, whom he addresses with the words: "Tu es d'amours mondains dieux en Albie / Et de la Rose en la terre Angélique."

Deschamps was the author of an Art poétique, with the title of L'Art de dictier et de fere chancons, balades, virelais et rondeaulx. Besides giving rules for the composition of the kinds of verse mentioned in the title he enunciates some curious theories on poetry. He divides music into music proper and poetry. Music proper he calls artificial on the ground that everyone could by dint of study become a musician; poetry he calls natural because he says it is not an art that can be acquired but a gift. He lays immense stress on the harmony of verse, because, as was the fashion of his day, he practically took it for granted that all poetry was to be sung.

The work of Deschamps marks an important stage in the history of French poetry. With him and his contemporaries the long, formless narrations of the trouvères give place to complicated and exacting kinds of verse. He was perhaps by nature a moralist and satirist rather than a poet, and the force and truth of his historical pictures gives him a unique place in 14th-century poetry. M. Raynaud fixes the date of his death in 1406, or at latest, 1407. Two years earlier he had been relieved of his charge as bailli of Senlis, his plain-spoken satires having made him many enemies at court. His Oeuvres completes were edited (10 vols., 1878-1901) for the Société des anciens textes français by Queux de Saint-Hilaire and Gaston Raynaud.

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